News that Egyptian courts have ordered the release of former president Hosni Mubarak demonstrated that the regime has removed its final fig leaf, the emperor revealed with no clothes. All other fig leaves covering the removal of former President Morsi have already been dropped – the unverified 22 million petition signatories, the ludicrous 17-33 million who apparently turned up in Tahrir shown to be a wildly exaggerated figure, the “liberal” Mohammad el-Baradei now holed up in Vienna having fulfilled his role as coup-enabler in front of the West, the fallacy of a neutral technocratic government led by Hazem el-Beblawi (more concerned with fighting “terrorism” than rebuilding the economy) and the idea that Tamarrod was a populist movement (now exposed as Nasserist secular fascists).
The claim that the coup backers were not simply anti-Islamic has also been shown empty after it was admitted that all of the facilitators and financiers of the coup ranging from businessman Naguib Sawaris to the Gulf regimes and Saudi Arabia are openly aggressive towards “political Islam” – not to mention the open support of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the current Israeli government and the Israeli lobby in Washington among others.
The old system remains in place untouched by the 2011 uprisings, with opposition back behind bars on trumped up charges, with thousands killed, jailed, tortured or pursued by the authorities. Now the regime claims that it is pursuing a “war on terrorism” against internal opposition – the rhetoric is not new, but a return to that of the 1990s. As mentioned by one Egyptian General to Le Monde : “We are 90 million Egyptians and there are only 3 million Muslim Brotherhood. We need six months to liquidate or imprison all. This is not a problem, as we have already done in the 1990s.” The propaganda machine is in full throttle, with an unquestioning state and private media reminiscent of the pre-2011 era. A war against the “Islamists” has been declared, and the secular illiberal dictatorship regime previously fronted by Mubarak has fully re-emerged from the shadows, feeling itself strong enough to discard itself of any other pretensions.
Despite the handwringing from certain quarters in Washington, this is no bad thing as far as the American government is concerned. Mubarak’s Egypt was one of America’s closest partners in its ongoing “war on terror,” with close intelligence ties and the Egyptian regime provided locations for rendition victims to be “interrogated” as well as providing “interrogators” for others.
While Mubarak’s impeding release would be a major embarrassment, and no one will be encouraging any possible political return for the previously discarded dictator, it should be noted that at the time of the 2011 uprisings ex-Vice President Dick Cheney called Mubarak their “good friend”, President Obama stated that he was their preferred “force for stability and good” and Senator John McCain publicly lamented his removal. Whether he is released in the next few days or not, the symbolism speaks volumes about the current trajectory in Egypt. While Mubarak is clearly passed his sell-by date, in General Al-Sisi the American’s have a newer, more popular model as their point man in Cairo.
As Secretary of State John Kerry let it slip – removing former President Mohammed Morsi was a step towards “restoring democracy.” Or in other words, restoring a regime that would not only agree to protect American interests in the region such as the Camp David accords, but would also work hard to restrict the space for Islamic political activism among the Egyptian public, something that the Morsi administration was ultimately unwilling to do. And so while the blood flows and the prisons fill in Egypt we are likely to hear very little other than the mumbling of empty condemnation from the “West,” similar to their empty protestations against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Asad – another former close ally in the “war on terror.”
While the killing of Muslims in such numbers and brazenly open manner in both Egypt and Syria may be too embarrassing for the American government to maintain openly friendly relationships while the unrest continues, ultimately the policies of killing “terrorists” is a shared one, whether silently and away from the cameras by drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen or crudely in front of the media at Rabaa square or by asphyxiation in the back of a police van.
REZA PANKHURST (Twitter: @rezapankhurst) is a political scientist and historian, specialising in the Middle East and Islamic movements. His latest book, The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, 1924 to the Present, is published by Hurst and available now. He was formerly a political prisoner of the Mubarak regime.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.